A solar array that retailer Ikea says will be installed on the roof of its Bloomington store will be the state's largest generator of electricity from the sun.
The project, to be built this summer, is one of five solar power projects in four states that Ikea announced Thursday. The new projects and others now underway will put solar arrays atop 37 of its 44 U.S. locations, Ikea said.
The Bloomington store's power output, 1.1 megawatts, will be nearly double that of Minnesota's largest existing solar-electric generator on the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Ikea said the Bloomington store will generate enough electricity to power 112 homes, though most of it will be used on site. The privately held company, which had revenue of $29 billion in 2010, didn't disclose the project's cost.
"Ikea, drawing from its Swedish heritage and respect for nature, believes it can be a good business [with an] operating model designed to minimize impacts on the environment," the company said in a statement.
By utility standards, the Bloomington project's output will be small, equivalent to one modest-sized wind turbine. But Ken Bradley, chairman of the advocacy group Solar Works for Minnesota, said only about 5 megawatts of solar power are now produced in the state.
"It's significant -- this is one-fifth of what the state has installed," said Bradley, who added that the rooftops of large retailers are ideal locations for large solar projects.
Ikea said SoCore Energy, a Chicago-based commercial solar developer, will build the Bloomington project and three others in Illinois and Michigan. The solar modules will come from SolarWorld, a German company that manufactures in Hillsboro, Ore., said Ikea's U.S. spokesman Joseph Roth.
Outlook for industry
Junko Movellan, an analyst for NPD Solarbuzz, which does market research for the solar industry, projected that U.S. solar installations will grow 45 percent this year to 2,759 megawatts, about 80 percent of that in California. Minnesota is a small player, adding about 2 megawatts a year, Movellan said in an e-mail.
Even so, more than 700 solar power projects are being built each year in Minnesota, many of them small, residential rooftop arrays, up from about 50 projects a decade ago, according to the state Commerce Department.
The growth has been fueled by falling prices for solar modules, utility solar incentives and federal tax credits that expire in 2016. The kilowatt-hour cost of solar remains three to four times greater than power produced from coal or natural gas, according to a report released this week by Mortenson Construction of Golden Valley, which builds wind farms and solar projects.
Mortenson surveyed 265 solar professionals at an industry conference last year amid growing uncertainty on several fronts, including future federal support for renewable energy in the face of the nation's budget woes.
"There are a lot of potential risks ... out there that can impact this industry," said Steve Pekala, manager of market intelligence for Mortenson. "We were surprised, despite all of that, at the genuine optimism that everyone had in the future of solar."
David Shaffer • 612-673-7090